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Title: Embedding communication concepts in forecasting training increases students' understanding of ecological uncertainty

Communicating and interpreting uncertainty in ecological model predictions is notoriously challenging, motivating the need for new educational tools, which introduce ecology students to core concepts in uncertainty communication. Ecological forecasting, an emerging approach to estimate future states of ecological systems with uncertainty, provides a relevant and engaging framework for introducing uncertainty communication to undergraduate students, as forecasts can be used as decision support tools for addressing real‐world ecological problems and are inherently uncertain. To provide critical training on uncertainty communication and introduce undergraduate students to the use of ecological forecasts for guiding decision‐making, we developed a hands‐on teaching module within the Macrosystems Environmental Data‐Driven Inquiry and Exploration (EDDIE; educational program. Our module used an active learning approach by embedding forecasting activities in an R Shiny application to engage ecology students in introductory data science, ecological modeling, and forecasting concepts without needing advanced computational or programming skills. Pre‐ and post‐module assessment data from more than 250 undergraduate students enrolled in ecology, freshwater ecology, and zoology courses indicate that the module significantly increased students' ability to interpret forecast visualizations with uncertainty, identify different ways to communicate forecast uncertainty for diverse users, and correctly define ecological forecasting terms. Specifically, students were more likely to describe visual, numeric, and probabilistic methods of uncertainty communication following module completion. Students were also able to identify more benefits of ecological forecasting following module completion, with the key benefits of using forecasts for prediction and decision‐making most commonly described. These results show promise for introducing ecological model uncertainty, data visualizations, and forecasting into undergraduate ecology curricula via software‐based learning, which can increase students' ability to engage and understand complex ecological concepts.

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Award ID(s):
1926050 1933016
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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